Friday, January 16, 2009

Count me cinnam-IN!

The title of today's entry was the enthusiastic RSVP of our friend R to last weekend's brunch. While everyone enjoyed the cheese scones and other items available for consumption, it seems somewhat obligatory to post a recipe that actually fit the cinnamon theme. After all, the reason cinnamon WAS the theme is that there's something magical about its smell wafting through the air, drawing onlookers in with their noses held high and actively sniffing, like in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon from many years ago. The scent makes you (or at least me, but probably not B) dream of a big mug of coffee. (Though not necessarily cinnamon-flavored coffee! A few weeks ago, I asked my dad via my mom to get me some coffee and something with cinnamon for breakfast. Some elements got lost in translation, and I ended up with a cinnamon latte. Not my favorite. And somehow I didn't manage to get anything more substantial than that very same latte for breakfast.)

But now back to the brunch. I purposely cooked the quiche ahead of time so that the last thing to come out of the oven as the guests began arriving was cinnamon-y. While the guests at our brunch may not have remembered (realized?) that I cleaned the baseboards in our apartment for them, hopefully they'll remember the mouth-watering cinnamon swirl bread.

I served it on a cutting board with a big serrated bread knife, so that the guests could cut their own thick slices.

This recipe for cinnamon bread stands out because of its delicious cinnamon crumble topping. My mom found this recipe when she purchased the Fleischmann's yeast cookbook in the 70s with twenty-five cents and a few proof-of-purchases (long before she moved onto designer mail-order yeast and harvesting her own, Michael Pollan-style). Cinnamon bread was quickly established in her repertoire, and became one of my brother's and my favorite weekend breakfasts growing up. The recipe makes two loaves, and a Saturday-morning debate always ensued about whether we could spare a fresh, warm, cinnamon-scented loaf for the neighbors; let's just say that what they didn't know they were missing out on wouldn't hurt them.

Bread in general is incredibly satisfying to make. You--you!--have awakened sleeping spores, allowed them to grow (up), and watched your mixture develop into a substantial and delicious loaf in the oven, all within a few hours. Some people, like my mom, even enjoy kneading and manage to get out a week's worth of aggression through kneading, but I actually find it sort of a drag; I can say with complete confidence that this bread will still turn out well even if you don't knead it for the recommended five minutes. The start-to-finish time is considerable, so take that into account when planning. You can even use the downtime while the bread rises (twice!) and bakes to do something useful, like clean the baseboards.

The bread is best right out of the oven, but it keeps well for 12-24 hours, tightly wrapped. It also makes great toast. B and I very much want to try it as French toast, but there's never enough left!

Cinnamon Swirl Bread
Adapted from the Fleischmann's Yeast Book

Makes: two loaves
Time: 25 min active time, 3 hours total

For the dough:
1 cup milk, heated
5 tablespoons butter
1 cup water, warm
2 tablespoons (2 packages) yeast
6 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 eggs, room temperature (save 1/2 of one egg)
6-7 cups unbleached flour

For the filling:
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar mixed with 2 teaspoons cinnamon

For the topping (all ingredients mixed together with fingers until crumbly):
1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Heat milk until scalded; add butter and let cool until tepid. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, add yeast to warm water. Then add sugar, salt, and two and a half eggs, and let stand until bubbly, about 5 minutes. Add cooled milk to yeast mixture and gradually (1/2 cup at a time) add flour so that dough comes away from sides of bowl. The dough should be soft. Knead for 5 minutes or 300 turns. Let rise in oiled bowl for 1 hour, until doubled.

Make filling by melting butter and mixing it with cinnamon and sugar mixture. Punch dough down and turn onto a lightly-floured surface. Divide dough in half and roll one half out into a rectangle approximately 7-8 inches wide and 12 inches long. Spread with half of cinnamon sugar mixture and roll up like a jelly roll making sure to pinch ends and to seal so that it doesn't leak. Place in greased loaf pan; repeat with other half. Let rise 25-35 minutes until dough has almost reached top.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375. Brush each loaf with reserved egg and cover equally with topping. Make a tent with aluminum foil and place in oven. Bake for 55-60 minutes or loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Let cool on rack for 15-20 minutes before slicing. The bread is delicious on its own, but I enjoy it even more with an extra pat of butter while it's still warm.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Say Cheese!

Brunch is my favorite meal, and today was the day of the long-awaited cinnamon-themed brunch. It was a success! Delicious food, wonderful friends, great conversation, beautiful views out the window on a sunny San Francisco day. By my count, there were twenty-eight non-MB and B guests (though one of them was only 3 months old). Here's the menu, a.k.a. a few of my favorite things:
--Crab quiche (reportedly John Travolta's favorite!)
--Leek-and-mushroom quiche (modified from Julia Child)
--Cranberry cinnamon rolls, half with and half without walnuts
--Cinnamon swirl bread with cinnamon crumble topping
--Salad with Mesclun greens, apples, and dried cranberries
--Two kinds of tartlets: aux abricots and au fromage frais et aux pruneaux (apricot; and cream cheese, prune, and almond)
--Fruit salad
--And, finally, cheese scones with roasted tomato salsa.

As you can see, there were some delicious recipes involving cinnamon, but I'm actually going to post today about the cheese scones. They are based on a recipe from the Cheese Board cookbook, with my own special twist. Perhaps the best part of the original recipe, which uses half-inch cubes of yellow Cheddar, is that the cheese spreads out from the edges during cooking to form a crunchy halo around each individual scone. The new and improved ones were inspired by some cheese scones we tasted last June in Portland, Oregon at Bakery Bar. (I highly recommend visiting Portland, period. But particularly in the summer, when the roses are in bloom. The fragrance at the rose garden was heady and almost overpowering. Over 8000 roses! Here are a few:

This one smelled divine.

We liked the roses so much, we visited the garden twice during our trip. Also, the dining was pretty phenomenal in Portland.)

Back to the cheese scones. The new and improved version has grated cheese and scallions. They have less crispy cheese halo, but such a wonderful texture and flavor. And they brown beautifully in the oven! There were a few left over from the brunch, so I took a picture.

The new cheese scones, like the old cheese scones, are quite savory, and delicious with a spicy roasted tomato salsa that I have adapted from the Cheese Board. They are also delicious without the salsa, but it is so easy to make while the scones are in the oven.

Cheese Scones
Adapted from The Cheese Board Collective Works

Makes 12 scones
Time: 15 min active time, 45 min total

3 c. flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1 1/2 t. baking powder
pinch of cayenne pepper, or to taste
jalapeno or serrano chile, chopped (optional)
1 t. kosher salt
2 T. yellow cornmeal
1/2 c. (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-in cubes
1/2 pound sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
4 scallions, finely chopped
1 c. buttermilk
1 egg, beaten (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a baking mat.

Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cayenne, chile (if using), salt, and cornmeal to a large bowl. Then add the butter and cut it in with a pastry cutter, 2 dinner knives, or your fingers until it is the size of small peas. Briefly mix in the Cheddar and scallions. Make a well in the center, and add 3/4 c. buttermilk. With a few strokes of a wooden spoon, mix just until the ingredients come together. Add remaining buttermilk if needed, but the should be some loose flour at the bottom of the bowl.

Place half the dough on a generously floured surface. Pat into a 1 1/2 in-thick circle. Cut into six wedges. Repeat with the second half of the dough. Place the scones on the prepared pan about 2 inches apart. You may brush the tops with the beaten egg, if desired.

Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 25-30 min, or until light brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Serve with roasted tomato salsa.

Roasted Tomato Salsa
Adapted from The Cheese Board Collective Works

Makes 3 cups
Time: 10 minutes active, 20-30 min total

5 Roma tomatoes
2 jalapeno chiles, stemmed
2 cloves garlic
1/2 c. finely chopped green onions
1/2 c. loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1/2 t. kosher salt

In a heavy skillet over medium heat, roast the tomatoes, chiles, and garlic until the tomato skins are blackened and beginning to fall off, about 10 minutes (alternately, broil the tomatoes, chiles, and garlic in a baking dish for 15 minutes, turning once). Place all ingredients in a food processor for 15 seconds.

P.S. People brought lovely hostess gifts to the brunch, which was unnecessary but much appreciated. White tulips (from E and JMc, the latter of whom really shouldn't have been giving gifts as it was HER birthday today).

Also we were given wonderful beverages (thanks to T for the cinnamon-themed Champagne cocktail). Flavored salts. Meyer lemons and coffee crunch bars. Blooming lychee tea. And everyone's company, which was all we really wanted to begin with.

Thanks to all for attending! And a special thanks to B, for putting up with me.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Cauliflower? I hardly know 'er!

Cauliflower is among my favorite vegetables. And that's saying a lot, since I love, love, L-O-V-E love vegetables. Oh sure, there are the childhood favorites-to-hate. To be honest, I still don't particularly like lima beans, though Brussels sprouts redeemed themselves with an amazing cameo in S's egg scramble surprise that we had over Christmas. And eggplant? I *still* can't believe how many years I wasted as a child picking it out of stir-frys and pastas.

Cauliflower has never occupied as ambiguous a spot in my eating repertoire. No, it's always achieved a perfect balance of sweet and nutty and tender. Like its cousin broccoli, it takes almost no prep time and makes a fantastic side dish in minutes. Forget steaming or boiling (read: leaching the flavor and nutrients out, one over-steamed minute at a time): instead, try sauteeing the florets in olive oil with some slivered garlic. Or, try today's recipe.

Some background on the genesis of this recipe: I ate dinner alone earlier this week, because B was away with his cycling friends. It had been a very long day at work, so I decided to order take-out from Pizzeria Delfina (on a delicious block in Mission Dolores; read page 16 of the January Gourmet for a shout-out to chef-proprietor Craig Stoll, or at least to his taste in espresso machines). I have ordered a lot of take-out from this restaurant, and never, until the other night, have they actually had available the "Spicy Cauliflower" advertised on their website. But I was in luck! Not only did they have it on the menu that night, but also B was away. I don't at all enjoy B being away (though sometimes I do enjoy sleeping diagonally in the bed), but I did get to enjoy the whole dish on my own. So I did. Promptly. Also I ate some pizza and some insalata tricolore. Then I went to bed. (Then I woke up the next morning with a sore throat and stuffy nose, but that's another, much less interesting, story.)

All I could think about after breakfast the next morning was the cauliflower. Specifically, how beautifully the spiciness of the Calabrian chiles and the saltiness of the capers married with the cauliflower. As it is a whole ten-minute drive to Pizzeria Delfina, and I was in clearly in the mood for some more cauliflower as soon as possible, I decided to make my own spicy cauliflower for dinner at home. I don't have access to Calabrian chiles, but I do have some dried ground Serrano chiles from my parents' garden this summer. And I always have capers in the fridge.

The flavor of the recipe below is very similar to that at Delfina, but after making my version, I've decided that the even shade of light nutty brown on theirs can only come from deep-frying. So you'll have to settle for a more variegated version here, with shades of white and brown. B and I had ours as a side with pasta, but it would go very well with any red meat.

Spicy Roasted Cauliflower
Inspired by Pizzeria Delfina

Serves: 2-3 people, as a side dish
Time: 10 min active, 45 min total

2 T. olive oil
1 head cauliflower, stem discarded and remainder broken into 1 1/2 in. florets
3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2 t. capers
1/4 t. red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Pour the olive oil into an 8x8 in baking pan. Toss the cauliflower, garlic, capers, and red pepper flakes in the olive oil. Place pan in oven. Roast cauliflower for 30 min total, or until edges are lightly browning, tossing florets several times during roasting.

P.S. Some of you may know that we're having a (rather large) group of people over for a cinnamon-themed brunch this weekend. Expect a recipe or two on the theme next week!

Monday, January 5, 2009


Did I mention that I love ice cream? Oh, right, I already did. It's only recently that I've started expanding away from traditional custard-based recipes into the wide (and possibly slightly healthier) world of frozen yogurt and sorbet and, today, sherbet.

Maybe you, like me, grew up near a ice cream store, whether Swensen's or 31 Flavors or some other. Maybe you, like me, begged your babysitter to take you there after school at least twice a week. Once there, maybe you pressed your 9-year-old face to the cold glass and gazed longingly at the multitude of options inside the freezer, realizing that the decision you were about to make was momentous, and somehow would reflect your inner thoughts and tastes and desires. Occasionally you'd order what all the cool kids ordered, which was always bubblegum, and which always ended up being a disappointment. (In retrospect, what a silly flavor! How could you possibly hold on to all the gum bits to chew until the end? Unless, maybe, like Violet Beauregard, you stuck the bits behind your ear until you were ready for them.) Other times you'd stick with the old classic, rocky road. And sometimes you'd be tempted by the brilliant colors of sherbet (invariably and inexplicably pronounced "sherbert" by you and your friends, that extra "r" now ingrained in your memories and your pronunciation forevermore, leading your husband B to say to you last night, "President Bush probably grew up saying 'nuke-u-lar,' but that doesn't make it right!"), but when you chose sherbet, you were always disappointed by the slightly artificial tang of your scoop.

Until now, that is, when a completely unartificial, beautifully-colored, lovely-tasting sherbet is available for your palate. Pete Wells wrote about this version in the New York Times Sunday Magazine this week, and it's everything he promised it would be and more. It's smooth and fresh and quick and easy. Also, it takes advantage of the citrus season we're in: Meyer lemons and key limes and clementines, oh my!

Now how to get the juice? I have been told that I have a very gadget-y kitchen. I mean, my mom gave me a mozzarella slicer for Christmas last week. But it's rare, I think, for form and function to meld as perfectly as they do in the Orange-X juicer (one time, B and I were walking through SFO when we saw it as part of an exhibit on great design originating in the Bay Area). The perfect gift for the cook who has everything!

A note on the following recipe for vegetarians or those who cook for them: there are some hard-to-remember pitfalls that I have come across over the years. For example, Worcester sauce has anchovies in it (oops!). A friend once made risotto, and only when her vegetarian guest asked for the recipe did she realize she'd used chicken broth (for better or worse, she didn't tell him). Gelatin is another one that can be missed (it's made from unmentionable leftovers like hooves), and it is a necessary part of the following sherbet. No panna cotta or clementine sherbet for strict vegetarians! For the rest of us, though, enjoy the following.

Clementine "Sherbert"
Adapted from Pete Wells, The New York Times Magazine, 1/4/09
In turn, adapted from Alice Waters, Chez Panisse Fruit

Makes a little more than a pint
Time: 20 min active, 2 1/2 hours total

1/2 t. gelatin
2 T. water
2 lbs clementines, or enough to make 1 1/2 c. juice
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. cream

Place the gelatin and 2 T. water in a small saucepan on the stove. Meanwhile, zest two of the clementines, and place the zest aside. Squeeze the clementines. Heat the gelatin and water until it is smooth, about 1-2 min. Then add the juice, zest, and sugar. Continue to cook until the sugar dissolves, about 2-3 min. Chill for 1 hour. Strain out the zest, add cream, and freeze orange-cream mixture according to your ice cream maker's instructions. Freeze for at least 1 additional hour before serving.